Archives du mot-clé Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

On this date february 4, 1913 Rosa Parks was born in Alabama. By refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus in 1955, she helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States. Over the next half-century, Parks became a nationally recognized symbol of dignity and strength in the struggle to end entrenched racial segregation. We must not forget all the « UNSUNG » Rosa Parks who refuse to give her their seat to a white man before december 1955 like Elizabeth Jenning Graham Ida B. Wells, Irene Morgan Kirlady, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson Sara Keys, Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Marie Louise Smith, Jeannette Reese, Susie McDonald….

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7 Things that you may not know about Rosa Parks

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1. Parks had been thrown off the bus a decade earlier by the same bus driver – for refusing to pay in the front and go around to the back to board. She had avoided that driver’s bus for 12 years because she knew well the risks of angering drivers, all of whom were white and carried guns. Her own mother had been threatened with physical violence by a bus driver in front of Parks, who was a child at the time. Parks’ neighbor had been killed for his bus stand, and teenage protester Claudette Colvin, among others, had recently been badly manhandled by the police.

2. Parks was a lifelong believer in self-defense. Malcolm X was her personal hero. Her family kept a gun in the house, including during the boycott, because of the daily terror of white violence. As a child, when pushed by a white boy, she pushed back. His mother threatened to kill her, but Parks stood her ground. Another time, she held a brick up to a white bully, daring him to follow through on his threat to hit her. He went away. When the Klu Klux Klan went on rampages through her childhood town, Pine Level, Ala., her grandfather would sit on the porch all night with his rifle. Rosa stayed awake some nights, keeping vigil with him.

3. Many of Parks’ ancestors were Indians. She noted this to a friend who was surprised when in private Parks removed her hairpins and revealed thick braids of wavy hair that fell below her waist. Her husband, she said, liked her hair long and she kept it that way for many years after his death, although she never wore it down in public. Aware of the racial politics of hair and appearance, she tucked it away in a series of braids and buns — maintaining a clear division between her public presentation and private person.

4. Parks’ arrest had grave consequences for her family’s health and economic well-being. After her arrest, Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn’t find full employment for nearly 10 years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute. She developed painful stomach ulcers and a heart condition and suffered from chronic insomnia. Raymond, unnerved by the relentless harassment and death threats, began drinking heavily and suffered two nervous breakdowns. The Black press, culminating in JET magazine’s July 1960 story on “the bus boycott’s forgotten woman,” exposed the depth of Parks’ financial need, leading civil rights groups to finally provide some assistance.

5. Parks worked alongside the Black Power movement, particularly around issues such as reparations, Black history, anti-police brutality, freedom for Black political prisoners, independent Black political power and economic justice. She attended the Black Political Convention in Gary and the Black Power conference in Philadelphia. She journeyed to Lowndes County, Alabama, to support the movement there, spoke at the Poor People’s Campaign, helped organize support committees on behalf of Black political prisoners such as the Wilmington 10 and Imari Obadele of the Republic of New Africa and paid a visit of support to the Black Panther school in Oakland

6. Parks was an internationalist. She was an early opponent of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, a member of The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and a supporter of the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit and the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest in D.C. In the 1980s, she protested apartheid and U.S. complicity, joining a picket outside the South African embassy and opposed U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling on the United States to work with the international community and no retaliation or war.

7. Parks was a lifelong activist and a hero to many, including Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison, he told her, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.”

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)

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She refused to give up her Trolley Car Seat or ride in the « Colored » Section of the segregated Trolley Car in Philadelphia (1858) 100 Years before Rosa Parks.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born September 24, 1825, in Baltimore, Maryland to free parents, orphaned by age three; she was raised by an aunt and uncle. She studied Bible, literature, and public speaking at a school founded by her uncle, William Watkins Academy for Negro Youth. Her first job at thirteen was caring for the children of a bookseller; there she began writing, composing poems, and reading the popular literature of the period. At 14, she needed to work, but could only find jobs in domestic service and as a seamstress. She published her first volume of poetry in Baltimore about 1845, Forest Leaves or Autumn Leaves, but no copies are now known to exist. Frances moved from Maryland, a slave state, to Ohio, a free state in 1850, the year of the Fugitive Slave Act. In Ohio she taught domestic science as the first woman faculty member at Union Seminary (Columbus), an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) school which later was merged into Wilberforce University. A new law in 1853 prohibited any free black persons from re-entering Maryland. In 1854, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper moved to Pennsylvania for a teaching job in Little York. The next year she moved to Philadelphia. During these years, she became involved in the anti-slavery movement and with the Underground Railroad. Her first abolitionist speech was a marked success. She lectured frequently on abolitionism in New England, the Midwest, and California, preaching social and political reform and moral betterment. Her poetry was published in poetry magazines and newspapers. Her Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, published in 1854 with a preface by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, sold several thousand copies and saw at least twenty editions. Containing her most-acclaimed abolitionist poem, « Bury Me in a Free Land, » it firmly established Harper’s literary reputation. In 1858, Frances entered a streetcar and sat down. The conductor came to her and insisted she leave, but she stayed quietly in her seat. A passenger intervened, asking if she might be permitted to sit in a corner. She did not move. When she reached her destination, Frances got up and tried to pay the fare, but the conductor refused to take her money. She threw it down on the floor and left. It was all about racism. The white conductor was giving Frances Ellen Watkins, a hard time because she was African American, and Watkins was having none of it. She believed in equality. She believed in treating all people with dignity and respect. Her work obliged her to travel from place to place, and she was used to enduring prejudice and injustice. She had the courage not to let it stop her. She donated most of the money she earned from her books to the antislavery cause. Whenever she could, she sent a few dollars to William Still for the Vigilance Committee and the fugitives. At one point, he must have admonished Watkins to keep more of her earnings for herself. She wrote back, « Let me explain a few matters to you. In the first place, I am able to give something. In the second place, I am willing to do so. » In fact, she was more than willing and able. To her, helping humanity was a sacred calling, and she felt blessed to be able to do it. « Oh, is it not a privilege, » she wrote to a friend, « if you are sisterless and lonely, to be a sister to the human race, and to place your heart where it may throb close to down-trodden humanity? »
Watkins supported a movement called Free Produce, which encouraged people to boycott all products tied to slave labor. « Oh, could slavery exist long if it did not sit on a commercial throne? » she wrote. « Our moral influence against slavery must be weakened, our testimony diluted if . . . we are constantly demanding rice from the swamps, cotton from the plantations, and sugar from the deadly mills. »
She hoped that blacks would establish a network of schools, newspapers, and churches dedicated to the betterment of themselves and each other. She believed that an important goal of antislavery work was to teach her people « how to build up a character for themselves—a character that will challenge respect in spite of opposition and prejudice; to develop their own souls, intellect and genius, and thus verify their credentials. »
Frances Harper advocated for equality and reforms for the rest of her life. The racist rhetoric of her day was ugly and white people who harmed or even murdered blacks usually went unpunished, yet she did not give in to anger or despair. Her words helped Americans across racial lines understand their common humanity and common yearnings. She believed she could contribute to the betterment of society by uplifting her listeners, and she hoped that her life might « gladden the earth. » She shone a light on injustice so that others might see it more clearly—but she remained confident that some day, there would be liberty and justice for all. She died in 1911.